Traveller: Andrew Mevissen
Room: One of 18 luxury, king-bed suites
Address: Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge), Katherine, NT
Date: April 2018
Best for: An indulgent base from which to explore the ancient lands surrounding one of Australia’s most spectacular gorges
The Signature factor
This sophisticated wilderness sanctuary sits perched at the lip of the ancient and stupendously carved walls of Nitmiluk Gorge. But the prized location comes second in the ‘wow’ stakes to the palate-pampering cuisine which is infused with indigenous flavours and enjoyed by Cicada’s shimmering pool as the blazing sun sets over the incongruously rugged countryside that cradles the lodge.
Cicada Lodge is nestled within Nitmiluk National Park, home to the iconic Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, a deep, waterfall-fed canyon that snakes through rugged country 30 kilometres from Katherine and 300 kilometres south of Darwin. Drawing guests from around the world, this boutique lodge offers the most luxurious accommodation at the gorge and is wholly owned by the local Jawoyn people as is the national park. Pronounced ‘Nit-me-look’ and literally meaning ‘place of the cicada’, Katherine Gorge was given this name by Nabilil, an important figure of the Jawoyn creation time. As he travelled along the gorge, Nabilil heard the song of the cicada – ‘nit, nit,nit’ – and so the name was born. Today, Cicada Lodge morphs innocuously with the bush to offer nature-lovers coveted creature comforts while at the same time providing an authentically moving connection with the primal spirits which pervade one of Australia’s great gorges.
The soothing sounds of a water feature feeding a reeded billabong greet guests at Cicada Lodge, as do walls of glass showcasing the magnificent and storied gorge country which frame the property. A complimentary welcome drink also engenders a sense of calm and because it’s always hot here in the Top End, the pool soon gets a workout to wash off the desert dirt. The air-conditioned rooms are also very welcome. The staff are efficient yet personable and affably relaxed, befitting the remote location and reflecting Australia’s distinctive outback spirit.
Sprinkled through the bush, each of the 18 rooms is airy and air-conditioned and imbued with earthy tones to mirror the landscape. Full-length, louvered doors to the private balconies allow guests the choice of opening their room to the sounds and sights of the native bush or closing them for the cool privacy of their own sanctuary. Each room offers views across the sandstone country above the gorge – lush gullies brimming with flora. Indigenous artwork, rich in colour and painted by local artists, adorns the walls, complementing the sleek and modern furnishings, including a king-size bed (or alternatively, twin beds). The bathroom is similarly luxe, with rain shower and upscale toiletries. There’s bathrobes, complimentary Wi-Fi, satellite TV channels, in-house movies and tea and coffee making facilities.
Each of the 18 rooms is the same, so you won’t feel envious of anyone living it up somewhere better!
On My Plate
Included in the tariff are sunset drinks and native food tapas each evening on the pool deck as well as breakfast by the pool the next morning. Dinner, lunch packs and other drinks are charged to your account. The sunset canapes are quirkily innovative and deliciously enticing – crocodile veloute, Northern Territory bugs in garlic butter and seared camel with whipped blue cheese and charcoal crumb. We requested a second round to really treat the taste buds. A brand new kitchen at Cicada Lodge opened in early May, 2018, in which creative chefs display their passion for marrying local produce with traditional herbs and fruits to champion Nitmiluk’s rich cultural heritage. Our dinner plates were graced by pan-seared scallops, seared beef eye fillet, kangaroo carpaccio, macadamia lemon myrtle barramundi, coconut panna cotta and chocolate marquise. There’s also room service if you’d like to dine in your room or on your balcony.
Highlights from the Mini-Bar
Standard fare and reasonably priced. Beer $9, Coke $4.80, water $4, wine $40 a bottle.
I wish I could take home
The stylishly relaxed vibe of Cicada’s centrepiece pool deck: brewing coffees, flowing wine, gourmet treats, alfresco dining, chilled tunes, stunning sunrises and sunsets, warm breezes, suntanning cicadas and animated banter between globe-trotting travellers. I want all that at home, now please!
As a smaller lodge, Cicada does not offer spa facilities although a morning walk to the nearby gorge lookouts and a refreshing dip in the pool are just as revitalising as any massage.
The boutique size of Cicada and the many adventures available in the park mean guests typically spend the day exploring the gorge, returning mid-afternoon perhaps to graze by the pool, cool drink in hand, as well-deserved respite after an active day.
There are a bewildering number of ways – by air, on water and by foot – to enjoy the grandeur of Nitmiluk Gorge. Activities are extra but Cicada staff can guide you in the right direction to the best experiences and swimming spots. The highlight for us was a thrilling, two-hour adventure swim-helicopter trip with Nitmiluk Tours which canvassed the full length of the gorge and landed below the canyon walls at a remote, deserted and impossibly beautiful waterfall and lagoon where we swam and breathed in the matchless majesty of Nitmiluk. It’s not cheap at $524 a person, but the experience is one that you’ll cherish for a lifetime. We also enjoyed the wonderful 8-kilometre return walk from the lodge to the pristine Southern Rockhole where we swam at the waterfall (cleared of crocs) and admired the gorge views from the clifftops. There are also rock art tours, canoe trips and gorge cruises, with glimpses of crocodiles in the river. Just two hours away by car, adventures in the wilds of Kakadu await.
Cicada has reaped multiple awards for luxury accommodation at the Australian Tourism Awards and NT Brolga Tourism Awards.
During our stay, we were fortunate to meet the three MasterChef judges – Gary, George and Matt – who were staying at Cicada while filming an episode of the program at the gorge (watch out for it soon).
The best time to visit is from April to June after the wet when the waterfalls are still pumping, the skies are sunny and the swimming holes re-open sans crocs. But for a different experience, the summer wet season offers incredible light shows, thundering waterfalls and lush greenery.
It’s either hot or very hot here so carry water, use sunscreen and don a hat to protect yourself. Heed warning signs about which water holes are cleared of crocs for swimming. If you don’t want bush bugs in bed with you, don’t leave your balcony doors open (like we did once). And while the gorge begs exploration, allow time back at Cicada to chill by the pool and soak up the serenity.
Room for Improvement
If the swimming pool water was a little cooler, it would be even more refreshing on a hot day. The balcony sliding doors can also be a tad fiddly.
While Cicada sits at the top of the gorge, you can’t actually see it from the lodge although lookouts are a short walk away. And if your mobile carrier is Optus, you’ll enjoy a digital detox because only Telstra covers the area.
Where to Find Cicada Lodge